Leader Blues

Saturday, November 04, 2006

EDITORIALS>>Second-tier choices

Arkansas voters take lightly the races for the minor constitutional offices and who can blame them? The political parties do not take them seriously or else they would field more estimable candidates.

Aside from attorney general, the second-tier officers — secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and land commissioner — have only ministerial duties.

They and their staffs keep official records and carry out bureaucratic functions that are narrowly prescribed by law.

In any other governmental system they would be mid-level bureaucrats who would be hired under a merit program, but our 1874 Constitution prescribes that the offices be filled by election and we still do.

So does it really make any difference whom we elect to all those offices? Yes, some. Even record-keeping offices need to be run by someone who is competent and honest.

That is often hard to divine unless they have been in the office, so we find ourselves measuring the candidates by how they campaign for the little offices.

The attorney general, the government’s chief legal officer, is an important officeholder because he advises everyone from the governor to justices of the peace on their legal obligations.

He is supposed to defend the public’s interest in utility-rate cases and in other regulatory matters, and he (or she) automatically becomes the default candidate for governor or United States senator in the next election.

State Rep. Dustin McDaniel won a hotly contested primary race for the Democratic nomination.

His opponents are former state Rep. Gunner DeLay, the Republican candidate, and Rebekah Kennedy, a Fort Smith lawyer, who carries the banner for the Green Party.

Faithful to the family name (he is related to former U.S. House Speaker Tom DeLay), Gunner DeLay has run the nastiest campaign in a season of low politics. McDaniel has spent much of his time correcting fabrications by DeLay’s campaign.

So far right has DeLay lurched that his natural cheerleader in the conservative media, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, had to endorse McDaniel — enthusiastically! It has been that kind of year for the Democrat Gazette, which ordinarily has no brief for a Democratic politician.

McDaniel is bright, articulate and progressive. He has too often carried water for big development interests in the legislature — he is the author of the tax-increment-financing law, a bonanza for big developers — but it is an aberration in a generally fine record.

Like 99 percent of other voters, we had never heard of Rebekah Kennedy, who was put up by the Green Party when it won the right to the ballot. In the televised debate among the three, she was the most candid and straightforward.

She did not pander and she did not mince words. We like that in our general counsel.

So we could vote for either Dustin McDaniel or Rebekah Kennedy for attorney general.

The others are easier.

Charlie Daniels is running for a second term as secretary of state, opposed by Jim Lagrone, a Baptist preacher who hopes to follow in the footsteps of Rev. Mike Huckabee.

Lagrone’s campaign has consisted almost entirely of blaming Daniels for the recurring problems with voting machines and ballot counting in a number of counties. But Daniels is not responsible for either the national epidemic of voting problems or for those of a number of Arkansas counties.

The secretary of state is the official state voting registrar, but elections are conducted by counties, not the secretary of state. Lagrone’s biggest blunder was denouncing Daniels because Lagrone’s son couldn’t get his ballot counted in Saline County in the last election while he was fighting in Iraq.

What a cad, denying our fighting men their vote! But it turned out that Lagrone was lying. His son was in Mississippi, not Iraq, and that Daniels had done everything he could to get soldiers’ votes counted. Lagrone denounced the “liberal media” (the Democrat Gazette!) for uncovering the lie.

Charlie Daniels is the choice for secretary of state.

Until last week, we had forgotten that State Rep. Martha A. Shoffner, the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, had an opponent. Chris Morris is his name. He is a highly paid aide to Gov. Huckabee, or was. Huckabee fired him last week for using equipment and his taxpayer-paid time in the governor’s office to campaign.

We know little else about Chris Morris, but that is enough. Martha Shoffner is experienced and knowledgeable on state fiscal matters and we support her.

In the other two offices, Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox is opposed by Green Party candidate R. David Lewis, and state Auditor Jim Wood is opposed by the Greens’ Michael Joseph Bolzenius. The Greens have said little and done no campaigning. Take your choice.